Clarke: We will use every weapon to beat extremism

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Indy Politics

In his first conference speech as Home Secretary, he defended proposals to introduce identity cards, announced a new initiative on neighbourhood policing and said the asylum system would be streamlined.

But he reserved his strongest words for a vitriolic attack on the Tories' general election tactics, accusing them of trying to win votes by stirring up "prejudice and bigotry" over race.

Facing criticism over the new anti-terror legislation in the wake of the London bombings of 7 July, he said: "The threat of terrorism is real and it is here. In the face of this threat, we must act to defend our values, both by tough measures to confront terrorism directly and by policies to remove the extremism that fosters it."

In a message to the critics of the Iraq war, Mr Clarke denied that government policy could be altered to "remove our society from the firing line".

He also dismissed accusations that the introduction of ID cards would undermine civil liberties, insisting: "It will not create the Big Brother state, as some claim. It will help to control that state."

He said the police service needed bold reform to meet the needs of the 21st century. He promised that every community - an area the size of one or two wards - would have a permanent team of police officers and community support officers by 2008. Each home would be supplied with the names, phone numbers and e-mail addresses of the officers for their neighbourhood.

"Their local knowledge will enable them to focus rapidly on trouble spots and troublemakers."

On the general election campaign, the Home Secretary denounced the "most unpleasant and pernicious campaigning by any major political party that I have seen".

He said: "Michael Howard attempted in an absolutely cynical way to mobilise prejudice and bigotry in the Conservative Party interest."